When you’re feeling anxious, and know that an attack is on its way, all you have to do to end it is distract your mind.  You can do this in any number of ways, but here are a few suggestions that I have found helpful in the past:

Listen to music: Sometimes, all you need is a change in pace.  Turn on a favourite song and listen to it from beginning to end.  Don’t do anything else!

Take slow, deep breaths:  When you panic, your breathing increases.  Stretch out, close your eyes, and breathe in through nose and out through your mouth.  Take each breath nice and slow.  If you rush, you’ll only make things worse.

Get up and move: It doesn’t matter what you do: stretch, jump, walk, or spin, whatever you want.  Just do something different.  A change in pace, direction, and thought is your primary objective.

Talk to someone:  You don’t have to tell them you’re about to have an attack, but that can help, too.  Ask them how their day was, tell them how yours was, bring up the weather, the news, the boy next door, or the boy that got away.  Don’t rush it.  Take your time and enjoy some communication with the outside world.

Drink a glass of water: Not only does this give your head something else to think about, but it also rehydrates you!  If you’ve been concentrating for a long time, and your mind’s starting to threaten with an attack, chances are strong that you haven’t had a drink or something to eat in a while.  Take a break and relax.

Splash water on your face:  Cold water works best.  This will force you to get up and move, and the cold water will zap your brain into the here-and-now, rather than the then-and-there.

Close your eyes and slowly count back from 10:  This is much like the breathing I mentioned above.  Take a slow breath between every number you count and take your time.  Rushing, again, only makes things worse.

Grab a pencil and break it in half: Violence can be fun.  When an anxiety attack’s on its way your body fills with adrenaline.  It’s that ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that our high school biology teacher always told us about.  You don’t have to break a pencil, but they’re cheap and easy to replace.  And sometimes the snapping sound, combined with that feeling of randomly destroying something, is just the right amount of something you need to get your head back on track.  Take your time with the pencil.  Threaten it a little by flexing it and squeezing it in your fingers.  Transfer all of that yucky anxious energy into that pencil and kiss it good bye!

Recall a fond memory and take a moment to enjoy it again: if you’re happy, you’re not thinking of your own impending doom.  Think back and remember the time your brother got a marble stuck up his nose, or when you went on vacation to Disney World as a kid.  Or even create a false memory about the time your jumped the bones of that crush you had back in tenth grade, but never had the courage to speak to.

When all else fails, scream!  Do it in a pillow, your sweater, or nothing at all.  It’s my absolute favourite method, and works every time.  If after the scream you don’t feel better, punch the pillow, bite it, show it who’s boss!

There are endless other things that you can do to lessen, stop, or avoid an anxiety attack.  Just keep a few default things in mind for those unexpected moments.  When you’re at home it’s easy.  There you’re free to do whatever you want.  But in public?  Not everyone’s willing to scream or start chomping on the cuff of their sweater.  Keep a pencil or picture of someone you love or care about in your pocket, and remember that you can always breathe and count anywhere, without looking like a total nut job.

Published February 1, 2012

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